A European team of researchers has developed software ensuring that digitally stored data is preserved, accessed and understood for the indefinite future. The tool is available for everyone and anyone to download for free. The work is an outcome of the CASPAR ('Cultural, artistic and scientific knowledge preservation, for access and retrieval') project, which received EUR 8.8 million under the 'Information society technologies' (IST) Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Until now large volumes of electronic data such as official records, museum archives and scientific results have been unreadable or at risk of loss either because newer technologies could not read them or current users could not understand the information. But thanks to the newly developed open source software, this problem will be a thing of the past. 'Digital information is extremely vulnerable and also extremely valuable,' said European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes. 'Anyone who has lost access to family photos or old documents will know the frustration of dealing with incompatible technologies.' The Commissioner said she was 'very excited by the potential of CASPAR's tools and techniques to ensure sustained quality of and access to valuable data in the future'. As everyone is aware, digital technology has revolutionised the way we deal with knowledge and information. Scientific domains like astronomy or climatology in particular rely on the quantitative analysis of large data sets over a long period of time. For example, evidence of the influence of human activities on global warming has been recorded for several decades. Despite the evolution of data recording technologies, from punch cards and magnetic tapes to cloud computing on huge servers, the ability to access and understand information in a landscape of evolving technologies remains crucial to scientific progress. And people in the future want, for instance, to be able to both print the numbers that come out of earth observation satellites and understand them. With problems like this in mind, CASPAR addressed a wide range of issues surrounding the preservation of all types of digitally encoded information and how it could be used in the future. The tool developed by the researchers is able to describe all sorts of data well enough so that the numbers could be extracted in the future - the equivalent of being able to print them today. And CASPAR also ensured that the numbers, and the relationships between them, can be understood and be easy to use in whatever software, and for whatever research, scientists might wish. According to the CASPAR partners, who were from the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Israel, Italy and the UK, these methods have been widely used and tested successfully with different kinds of data from science, cultural heritage and contemporary performing arts. In the domain of science, the researchers have already tested the data of the earth science community, and in the area of cultural heritage they have focused on the preservation of all data necessary to document, visualise and model heritage sites. For contemporary art the team looked at a range of subjects from contemporary music to performing arts, and other forms of technology-enhanced arts such as video games.
Czechia, Greece, France, Israel, Italy